By James Burt
The man in the gorilla costume trudged along the road, each step agony, barely able to keep moving. People watched, a few recording it with their phones. One person clapped, and it sounded hollow and sarcastic. Paul and Cate could hear the man panting as he passed, his discomfort obvious. The costume’s left arm had fallen off somewhere along the way, exposing the runner’s arm below.
“The end of a marathon is the best bit,” said Cate.
Paul grinned. “It’s certainly an interesting choice for a date.”
They were leaning on some fencing, but now someone came to remove that. Paul was surprised at how many runners were still coming in, even as the finish line was packed away. He followed Cate to a bench. The crowds were so sparse that they could still see the runners clearly.
“The proper athletes are boring. One two-hours-and-fifteen-minutes’ run is pretty much the same as any other. This is something else. These people have a story to tell.”
They watched injured people who were determined to finish. One man, limping in pain, had a woman supporting him, hissing that she’d looked after the kids while he was training, and he was damn well going to finish. He wouldn’t waste her work. “I rubbed your bloody feet.”
Paul wanted to grab Cate’s hand, to go in for that vital first kiss. If he didn’t manage it on a third date, it would be too late, but he couldn’t see an opportunity. Instead, he watched the runners, anxiety rising in his throat.
The runners struggled—they had all been on their feet for almost seven hours. One crumbled to the floor and sat there, resting in sight of the finish line.
“Come on,” said Cate. “Let’s get coffee.”
They walked towards town. They passed small groups of people, sometimes with one or two of them wearing the medals given to all finishers. A few had given the medals to their children to wear. Paul thought of that runner in the gorilla costume, who kept going. They’d been sore and overheated but kept going—and they had a story to tell.
Paul reached out his hand to take Cate’s.